Using documents in a Supreme Court trial

(transcript of video)

One way to give evidence at a trial is through documents. A document can be many things. It can be physical or paper, such as a receipt, a photograph, or a bank statement. Or it could be electronic, such as an audio recording or an email. Once a document is admitted into evidence at trial, it's called an exhibit. This video will cover what documents to use, how to prepare documents before trial, and how to introduce exhibits both with and without a witness.

What documents to use

Documents can be used at a trial to do two things:

  1. to prove a material or important fact of your case, or
  2. to disprove a material fact of the other party's case.

For example, if one fact you have to prove is how much your children's horseback riding hobby costs, receipts that show the amounts would be relevant and help you prove that fact. However, if you and the other party have already agreed on how you're going to share that expense and the trial's about other matters, the horseback riding receipts would not be relevant. Look at your Trial Preparation Worksheet to see which facts you might prove using documents. If you haven't made a Trial Preparation Worksheet yet, it's a good idea to do so now. Visit our Present your evidence in Supreme Court fact sheet to learn more.

Preparing documents before trial

Long before your trial, you'll have gone through the discovery process. Part of this process involves disclosing and sharing documents with the other party. First you have to provide them with a List of Documents. This isn't just a list you jot down — it's an official court form that can be found on the Court forms page of our family law website. Then, you need to organize the listed documents for the other party and they are expected to do the same for you.

Closer to trial time, you'll prepare a Trial Brief in preparation for the Trial Management Conference. On the Trial Brief, you need to list all the documents you plan to refer to at the trial.

This is very important. You can't present any document at trial that you haven't put on your List of Documents and listed in your Trial Brief. If you add a document at the last minute, you must change your List of Documents and Trial Brief, serve them both on the other party right away, and file an amended Trial Brief at the court registry.

It's also good to make a book of documents before the trial. To make this book, put all your documents into one binder, organized with tabs and dividers. Your book of documents can usually be entered as an exhibit at the trial. What's even more helpful to the judge is if you and the other party can make a joint book of documents.
We'll talk about that more in a minute.

Note that the court requires four copies of every document – one for you, one for the other party, one to go into evidence, and one for the judge. Make these copies ahead of time so you don't hold up the court.

Introducing exhibits without a witness

Often, you need to introduce a document at the trial through a witness who can identify it and confirm that it's authentic. The exception to this is if you can get the other party to agree that you can present certain documents. This is something you can discuss with the other party at your Trial Management Conference. You can also use a court form called a Notice to Admit, where you can list the facts and documents that you want the other party to "admit" or agree to. See our family law website Court forms page to find this form.

If you and the other party agree, you can put both of your documents into one binder and introduce this joint book of documents as an exhibit at the trial. This helps the judge because it organizes everything in one place. Plus, it saves time at the trial because you don't have to have a witness identify each document before entering it as an exhibit. The judge will want to know what you've agreed about the documents. Usually, parties agree that the documents are authentic, but not that everything said in every document is necessarily true.

Introducing documents through a witness

If the other party doesn't agree to you using a particular document, you'll need to call a witness who can identify it, or introduce it through your own testimony.

I'd like to invite my colleague in to help me demonstrate how you might lead a witness to identify a document.
She'll take the role of the witness, Ms. Jackson, and I'll take the role of the claimant – in this case, the wife of Mr. Lee.

In this example, Mr. Lee, my soon-to-be-ex-husband and the respondent in this case, has a new boat that he's hiding and refusing to disclose. I have a video of it taken by a third party witness, Ms. Jackson, that I want to introduce in court to support other evidence about the boat's existence.

My husband doesn't agree to the video being entered so I have to call Ms. Jackson, who took the video, as a witness, to have it properly introduced into evidence. I can't enter the video into evidence myself, as I didn't take the video nor was I there at the time.

Claimant: Ms. Jackson, how do you know the respondent?

Witness: Our kids go to the same school, but we don't know each other well. Our sons are friends on Facebook.

Claimant: Ms. Jackson, where were you on June 1, 2014 at around 2:00 p.m.?

Witness: I was at Esquimalt Lagoon.

Claimant: Ms. Jackson, what were you doing at Esquimalt Lagoon?

Witness: I was walking my dog and videotaping him swimming in the water.

Claimant: Did you capture anything in the background while you were filming?

Witness: Yes – I took a video of Mr. Lee driving a boat. He picked up the kids on the dock and was talking to them loudly about his awesome new boat. My son posted the video on Facebook.

Claimant: Ms. Jackson, I'm going to pass a video to the court clerk, who will pass it to you. Can you please confirm that this is the video you took and just described from June 1, 2014? [Shows video.]

Witness: Yes, I confirm that's the video I took with my iPhone.

Claimant: Ms. Jackson, how did you know that it was Mr. Lee in the video?

Witness: I recognized him from seeing him in the neighbourhood.

Claimant: When did I contact you about this video?

Witness: After my son posted the video, I got an e-mail from you asking about the video and when it was made. I talked to you and was subpoenaed to this trial to give evidence about the video.

Claimant: Thank you, Ms. Jackson. Do you have any further comments about the video or any other evidence to add?

Witness: No, I don't think so.

Claimant: Thank you. No further questions.

Now I would say to the judge, "My Lady (or My Lord), I would like to offer this video as an exhibit," and pass it to the court clerk. If the judge agrees to mark it as a numbered exhibit, the video is now officially evidence.

Find more information about using documents at trial and explore more resources for people representing themselves in Supreme Court on our family law website.

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Jointly developed by the Legal Services Society and the People's Law School, with generous funding from the Law Foundation of BC

Filmed and produced by Michael Augustine
Narrated by Winnifred Assmann
Written by Kate Hunt
Legally reviewed by Erin Shaw and Justice Victoria Gray
Courtroom photography by Dan Daulby
Image selection and titles by Brian Goncalves

Special thanks to:
Terresa Augustine
The Law Courts -- Vancouver

© Legal Services Society, BC, 2015